July 02, 2006


A chain of indirect reports recently led Roger Shuy to suggest that the National Association of Bunco Investigators promotes racist stereotypes of the Roma people. I yield to no one in my dislike of social stereotypes, but I think that this may well be unfair. I've never met any NABI members, or attended any of their meetings; but the cons and scams that they list on their web site are equal opportunity evil, as far as I can tell.

The only use of the word "gypsy" or "romani" on the (extensive) NABI website is in a reprinted LA Times story ("Gypsies: the Usual Suspects", by Hector Becerra, 1/30/2006). The story discusses a meeting in Valley Forge PA at which it seems that at least some sessions (perhaps just one session?) dealt with criminal gangs with Romani associations. The general tenor seems to be comparable to what you might hear in discussions of gangs with roots in Sicily or Central America or the Crimea. Since such gangs exist, it would be foolish to demand that no one ever discuss how to deal with them. In addition to the headline, there are some quotes that clearly make inappropriate ethnic generalizations ("Gypsies like high-end luxury cars, mostly Beemers [BMWs], Mercedes and Caddies these days," [retired New York Police Det. Edward] Berrigan told the conference attendees), but there is also evidence in the story that some of the presenters were making a sincere effort to talk about ethnically-associated gangs while clearly distinguishing the criminal subculture from the majority of the ethnic group.

I've had neighbors and acquaintances who were victimized by transient home-contracting fraudsters, and I'm happy that local police departments are sharing information about how to deal with them, whatever ethnic group the criminals come from. It's a good thing to watch out for ethnic stereotyping, and to object to it when it happens; but discussing how to deal with ethnically-associated criminal gangs is not ipso facto ethnic stereotyping.

[Update: a bit more poking around finds another NABI page (also a news story) that mentions "gypsies -- the words "gypsy" and "Roman(i/y)" don't occur in it, so I missed it in an earlier search: "Self-Proclaimed 'Gypsies' Bilking Tucsonans". While alerting readers to a danger, this article fails to avoid encouraging anti-Roma stereotypes, in my opinion.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 2, 2006 04:14 PM